The King’s Palace
With the King’s Birthday just four days away preparations are going on outside the palace – armfuls of pink and white waterlilies or lotus flowers in tight bud are placed in small temples, incense scents the air.
Outside the Palace is a park, sporting two life-size elephant statues, running (as it were) along the grass and there’s a huuuuge monument to the present king, King Norodom Sihamoni’s Father, the former King Norodom Sinanouk. King Norodom Sihamoin’s beloved by many Cambodians. The people I spoke to say that he’s quite shy and spends a lot of time at his residence in Siem Reap. He studied classical dance and music and taught ballet in France. All good credentials. He’s probably lovely.
Running elephant statue
There are frangipani trees in flower (thinking of you Anniemead)
After breakfast we take tuktuks to Meta House, home of the German Cambodian Cultural Centre, venue for tomorrow night’s concert. Mein host is the effervescent Anton Isselhardt and he and the Cambodian musicians are there to greet us.
I should have said before that the reunion of all the musicians was tremendously emotional (they worked together three years ago, putting on the O Cambodia concert for the Auckland Festival). They clearly love, and have deep respect for, each other. Pictures below!
Gillian, Justine, Him Sophy and Keo Dorivan reunite
The Trio have a concert at the beautiful Amanjaya Pancam Hotel this eve (arranged by the fantastic manager, a French lady, Anne), so they rehearse Beethoven, Claire Cowan, Stuart Greenbaum and Dvorak.
Anton Isselhardt (concert organiser), Anne (manager of the Amanjaya Pancam Hotel) and Keo Dorivan (flute player)
The Cambodian musicians follow me upstairs, to the empty cafe, for interviews. They’re clearly a little nervous but I’ve had time with them in the last couple of days, commenting on their incredible musicianship, showing some Western-style ballet moves to one of their young daughters and hopefully assuring them that I’m a friendly, super-supportive human.
I let them know that they can answer my questions in Khmer (hoping that this will allow for more depth and detail) and ask strong Him Sophy, leader of the ensemble, who has the most understanding of English, to step up first. I feel that he’s very trusting, he gives long answers and refers frequently to the genocide. The others listen intently.
Next, questions for darling Him Savy, the female singer, with whom I feel a strong bond. She’s Him Sophy’s niece, very petite and beautiful, with one of the sweetest and emotional voices I’ve heard. We giggle quite a lot to begin, but get down to serious communication before long.
Savy’s lovely husband, percussionist Keo Sophy is the new member of the ensemble. He plays drums and especially the roneat (or boat-shaped xylophone, that seems to play in consecutive octaves). He explains how he and Savy played in pop groups when they were younger (one of the only ways for professional musicians to make enough money to raise their young family).
Finally, Keo Dorivan, who I sense is anxious, moves in front of the microphone. We smile a lot and he explains how, after the demise of the Khmer Rouge, a flute was played on radio, every morning, as a symbol of reconciliation to all people,
Very relieved to have have done the interviews and emotional at what we’ve shared, I go downstairs to rehearsal of the O Cambodia project and proceed to weep (inconspicuously, I hope) for the next couple of hours.
The Cambodian musicians take us for an amazing lunch at one of their favourite restaurants and we head back to the hotel for the Trio to rest before tonight’s concert.
I’m tempted to rest too, but can’t resist heading out into the heat, to look around the neighbourhood. This time I go for the back streets and find narrow-pathed fruit and vegetable markets, offering the banana flowers we’ve eaten and marvelled over.
Bookstalls line the street and I pick up a couple of books (detail) for book-mad Megan and me. They seem a little pricey, but I don’t begrudge the bookseller making a living.
Return to the hotel for a cold bath, followed by a cold shower and head down to air-conditioned restaurant area, to help set up for tonight’s concert. Still hot. Find good seats for Gillian and me.
Gillian keeps our seats
The place fills up with people of all generations, including Savy and Sophy from the Cambodian group, and their two daughters and one of Savy’s violin students, who listens, motionless to the whole programme. Justine, Sarah and Ashley of NZ Trio arrive and introduce their programme – Beethoven Trio No 1 Opus 1 before the interval. As its catalogue number suggests, it’s an early work, written when Beethoven was in his early twenties, full of confidence and enthusiasm, and speedy articulation for all three players.
Appreciative, excited sounds are heard around the audience.
Amanjaya Pancam Hotel manager, Anne, talks with Justine, Sarah & Ashley before they begin
The second half starts with Claire Cowan’s Subtle Dances (much admired by all, including Anton), Stuart Greenbaum’s mesmerizing 800 Million Heartbeats and the Allegro from Dvorak’s Trio in F minor.
Lots of applause and people rush up to talk to the musicians. O Cambodia concert tomorrow evening though, so not too late to bed.
By the way, one night this week we went here for dinner: http://www.bopha-phnompenh.com/
Unsure of the link to the ill-fated ship, rather it was a shimmering glow of night lights and tasseled standard lamps, the chefs serving delicious food. On a small stage sat a very young male musician, playing the roneat (xylophone) and two very young female dancers, with the exquisite, flexible hand moves of the Apsara dancers. The photos on the restaurant’s website are better than mine.